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India: Journalist deliberately run down by truck, international media calls for independent probe

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Indian authorities to shed all possible light on the murder of Sandeep Sharma, a TV reporter who was deliberately run down by a dumper truck this morning in Bindh, in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, in a case apparently involving illegal sand mining and corrupt police.

CCTV recording of his death leaves no doubt that the truck’s driver deliberately targeted Sandeep Sharma, who was riding a motorcycle.

He worked for a national TV channel and had been investigating the so-called “sand mafia” – criminal rings that provide construction companies with sand taken from illegal mines and quarries, with effects that include violation of property rights, damage to the environment and widespread corruption.

Sharma feared for his life and had recently reporting receiving death threats. And he had accused a police officer of complicity with local sand mining mafia bosses, a claim supported by an audio recording that he had just made and disseminated.

“The shocking manner in which Sandeep Sharma was murdered is a terrible warning to journalists who investigate the sand mining mafia phenomenon,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“We convey our support to his colleagues, who risk their lives to do their job as in other parts of India. The authorities must establish mechanisms for protecting journalists. In particular, we urge them to create an independent unit to investigate this appalling murder and bring those responsible to justice, including those who gave the orders. Murders of journalists go unpunished only too often in India.”

Although Sharma was killed just a few metres from Kotwali police station, the police took around 20 minutes to get to the scene of his death, prompting concern among members of the Bindh Press Club about the possibility of complicity within the local authorities.

Journalists who cover India’s sand mafia are often the victims of violent reprisals, especially in the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh. Karun Misra of the Jansandesh Times and Ranjan Rajdev of the Hindustan Daily were both killed by gunmen on motorcycles there in 2016 after covering illegal mining.

Jagendra Singh died in June 2015 from burns he sustained during a police raid on his home after he investigated the involvement of Uttar Pradesh state officials in illegal mining. Another Uttar Pradesh journalist, Haider Khan, was beaten and then dragged behind a motorcycle for a hundred metres the same month after writing about land expropriations. Hemant Kumar Yadav was fatally shot in the chest by gunmen on a motorcycle in the same state in October 2015 in an apparent reprisal for his reporting.

In all these cases, the investigations carried out by the police drew a blank and those who gave the orders remain unpunished.

Aged 35, Sharma leaves two children aged 14 and 15. His murder came less than 24 hours after two other journalists, Navin Nischam and Vijay Singh, were killed in the northeastern state of Bihar by a local politician, who ran them down with 4WD vehicle.

As a result of the frequent violence against journalists, India is ranked no higher than 136th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index. (Reporters Without Borders)

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